Imagine my surprise and delight when I walked into my favorite Chicago hot dog shop this past Wednesday and found a brand new special on the menu: a duck sausage on a bun with fat pats of foie gras plopped on top. Was this heaven? No, just Hot Doug’s, a Northwest-Side hot dog shrine owned by America’s foremost practicioner of the sausage arts, my old friend Doug Sohn. Doug is what you’d call an encased meat fanatic, and his shop is no ordinary hot dog stand. Sure, you can find all the classics there: dogs, polish sausages, brats and Italians (all in natural casings of course). But far more unusual items lurk inside the paper-lined plastic baskets on Doug’s formica table tops. Lamb sausage, elk sausage, hell even rattlesnake sausage if you can get up the courage. And if you happen to drop by on a Friday or Saturday, you can have them all served up with a side of duck fat-fried french fries (that is, if you don’t mind waiting in a line that goes half way down the block, since Doug has turned more than a few ‘Nort-west-side Joes into unrepentent epicures).
All that said, it shouldn’t have suprised me that Doug would be flouting the Chicago foie gras ban with an elaborate special. The sandwich is in fact called the Joe Moore in honor of the city councilman who thought up the ban. It wasn’t cheap of course (it set me back about fifteen bucks!), but boy was it good. Then again, maybe it was just the sweet taste of defiance that made it so delectable.
Doug told me that since the foie gras ban went into effect this spring, it’s had exactly the opposite effect that the city council intended. Instead of squashing demand for a little-known (and much less eaten) delicacy, the ban has sent foie gras’ popularity through the roof, to the point where dozens of restaurants are now serving it in open violation of the law. And not just the high-end joints. Pizza places, chop houses and sandwich shops have all gotten into the act, turning hundreds of neophytes on to the joys of goose and duck liver.
How do they get away with it? Simply because there’s no enforcement. Mayor Daley is on record as having called the ban the silliest law ever passed in the city (which is really saying something), and in classic Chicago style, has simply failed to devote any resources toward its enforcement. The health department, which was technically assigned responsibility, is reportedly even less enthusiastic, and has yet to write one ticket for a violation.
It all does my heart (well maybe not my heart, but certainly my spirit) good. Just when I thought the old home town was rolling over for all time, it seems there’s a little bit of the old bathtub gin spirit left in her. Maybe it’ll be enough to put the hammer down on the newly proposed trans fat ban, which I’LL go on record as saying is even stupider! Since my last rant on the subject, I’ve found out that New York tried the same thing back in 2003, but the “ban” was simply watered down to a “request” by the time the legislation finally hit the books. Anyone who’s ever politely “requested” that a New York city cab driver stop cursing, or that a street and sanitation worker stop spitting on the sidewalk knows what kind of response those kinds of “requests” draw. Here’s hoping Chicagoans will give their city council a likewise less-than-polite “up yours”.